amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lisa Robertson is coming to town!

I’m excited because Lisa Robertson will be reading in Ottawa, along with Jeramy Dodds, at the a b series this Friday night. And I haven’t heard her read in person before. When she read at Tree last year, I think I was still in the hospital or at home recuperating.

My excitement comes from the fact that Robertson is one of the writers whose work inspired a turning point in my own writing. I had been writing for decades, much of my writing inspired by anything but contemporary poetry.

I first encountered Robertson’s work thru a workshop I was taking in 2006 with rob mclennan. He pointed students to a wonderful series of sound recordings called the Philly Talks curated by Lois Cabri. Serendipitously I picked Episode 17: Steve McCaffrey and Lisa Robertson because I’d heard of McCaffrey and was curious.

After hearing McCaffrey and Robertson I began work on something completely new and off the wall for me called Marauders of the Fold presented by deadstreet Gallery, a series of doodles and text combining French history, art and culture with popular culture.

rob had us write short pieces related to our work and the Philly Talks we’d listened to. here’s mine:

“Marauders of the Fold” by dsG is an attempt to explore the following concepts from the talks and from the two writers’ works and discussions:

1) McCaffery’s view that poetry is about playfulness and risk-taking;

2) the use of an alternate persona, as accomplished by Lisa Robertson with the Office for Soft Architecture; of getting out of the way of one’s writing and allowing it to have its own identity,

3) the idea that literal meaning can be sacrificed for other aspects, such as sound patterns, the musicality of language, and underlying symbolism;

4) the notion of becoming-meaning, by creating a new entity. creation is the act of bringing something into existence that wasn’t already there; I think therefore I am, I exist, therefore I have meaning;

5) Robertson’s concept of the concurrence of times, of the paradox of time as something ephemeral yet fixed, as depicted in The Weather and also in McCaffery’s Pastorals; if time is ephemeral and relative, then elements of time, history, art, music and literature can be plucked or marauded from their fixed period and folded into other times, arts, etc.;

6) the notion of the fold as discussed by McCaffery and originated by Leibnitz and Deleuze, being the idea of a confluence of elements, introducing detours, inflexions and instabilities and leading toward a new consciousness.

The above concepts continue to be part of what I am trying to achieve with my writing today. I continue to attempt to disrupt the narrative and I play around a lot with voices. The concept of the unreliable narrator pleases my sense of mischief and my occasional impatience with the I as poet voice.

When Robertson talked about her then manuscript The Weather (subsequently published by new star books in 2001), I was fascinated. First I hadn’t yet heard writers talk specifically about the way in which they created their poems and secondly because Robertson used a source text: British shipping news reports of the weather and I hadn’t thought of such as being inspiration for poetry or even the concept of source texts. And finally because of the text itself. It was repetitive, accumulative, ordinary and mesmerizing. First the weather, a topic of conversation that is used to break the ice when things are socially awkward. She weaves in the names of people, a litany of female saints, awkward subjects. The bulk of the text is in prose rather than free verse form. Robertson’s sentences with their accumulation and repetitive syntax made for a mesmerizing text and reading.

I am currently working through a series of prose poems and thus have been rereading some of Robertson’s work. In particular I have unearthed my two copies of The Apothecary (Tsunami Editions, 1991, 2001) and (Book Thug, 2007) in which, in part, the narrator describes her difficulties articulating in words which goes perfectly with what I’m trying to achieve in my current work in progress.

Some of Robertson’s other works that are currently piled on my desk for a reread are Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House Books, 2009), The Men (Book Thug, 2006), Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Clear Cut Press, 2003; Coach House, 2006). On my wish list is Debbie: An Epic (new star books, 1997).

So yes, you could say I’m excited that Lisa Robertson will be reading at the a b series on Friday. And Jeramy Dodds too. I will be interested to hear what new work he has after Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House, 2008), which was fun to hear him read at the Writers Festival a few years ago.

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